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Storm impacts on hydrodynamics and suspended-sediment fluxes in a microtidal back-barrier estuary

June 6, 2018

Recent major storms have piqued interest in understanding the responses of estuarine hydrodynamics and sediment transport to these events. To that end, flow velocity, wave characteristics, and suspended-sediment concentration (SSC) were measured for 11 months at eight locations in Chincoteague Bay, MD/VA, USA, a shallow back-barrier estuary. Daily breezes and episodic storms generated sediment-resuspending waves and modified the flow velocity at all sites, which occupied channel, shoal, and sheltered-bay environments with different bed-sediment characteristics. Despite comparable SSC during calm periods, SSC at the channel locations was considerably greater than at the shoal sites during windy periods because of relatively more erodible bed sediment in the channels. Sediment fluxes were strongly wind modulated: within the bay’s main channel, depth-integrated unit-width sediment flux increased nonlinearly with increasing wind speed. When averaged over all sites, about 35% of the flux occurred during windy periods (wind speed greater than 6 m s−1 ), which represented just 15% of the deployment time. At channel sites, the net water and sediment fluxes were opposite to the direction of the wind forcing, while at shoal sites, the fluxes generally were aligned with the wind, implying complex channel– shoal dynamics. Yearly sediment fluxes exceed previous estimates of sediment delivery to the entirety of Chincoteague Bay. These observations illustrate the dynamic sedimentary processes occurring within microtidal back-barrier lagoons and highlight the importance of storm events in the hydrodynamics and overall sediment budgets of these systems.